University of Washington Department of Linguistics


The University of Washington Department of Linguistics offers degrees in General Linguistics and Romance Linguistics at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and a Professional Master's in Computational Linguistics. The Linguistics Department's primary areas of interest lie strongly in grammatical theory, which can be broken down roughly into syntax, phonology, and semantics. Individual faculty members also specialize in phonetics, sociolinguistics, computational linguistics, and second language acquisition theory. Other faculty interests include research into the history of linguistics as an academic discipline, mathematical linguistics, and language typology. Languages of faculty research include Spanish, French, Korean, Japanese, Greek, Jamaican Creole, Arabic, Siswati, Sandawe, Cherokee, Swahili, Austronesian languages of Taiwan, the Athabaskan languages, and Sahaptin. Information about the interests of individual faculty members is available here.

In addition, the department often collaborates with other departments such as Speech and Hearing Sciences, Anthropology, Philosophy, Psychology, and Computer Science to expand its course offerings.

The Department of Linguistics also is the home of several laboratories such as the Phonetics Laboratory, the Sociolinguistics Laboratory and the Computational Linguistics Laboratory. The Department hosts a colloquium every Friday with invited speakers from the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Recent conferences organized by the Department include: Breath of Life and SALT 13.

Students meet during weekly roundtables and brownbags to discuss articles and/or student research in phonetics, phonology, syntax, sociolinguistics and computational linguistics.

The linguistics student organization, LSUW, performs duties such as organizing the weekly colloquia, nominating visiting speakers and obtaining funding for grad students. The LSUW also organizes the NorthWest Linguistics Conference every four years.


Research interests and research activities

Several faculty members in the Department work in the area of syntactic theory. All such research takes place within the generative tradition, which, broadly characterized, sees grammars as formal cognitive systems. In addition to syntax per se, UW linguists have made many contributions to the understanding of the interface between syntax and other levels of grammar, in particular phonology, morphology, semantics, and discourse.

The Department's phonologists concern themselves with aspects of modern generative phonology. Of primary interest is the phonology-morphology interface as characterized by prosodic morphology and lexical phonology, as well as the phonology-syntax interface and theories of phonological change over time. Faculty interests also include research in metrical phonology, feature geometry, and the phonetics-phonology interface.

We are mainly concerned with formal semantics, which analyzes the semantics of natural language in terms of mathematical concepts such as set and function. Also of interest are such topics as the relation between syntax and semantics, the semantics of non-European languages, and the relation between formal semantics and so-called lexical semantics.

We are interested in a broad range of theoretical and practical issues in articulatory and acoustic phonetics. Some issues include speech perception and spoken word processing, gestural timing, and the role of phonetic explanation in phonological theory. Other phonetic research include acoustic and articulatory description of spoken language.

We are interested in a broad range of issues pertaining to language in society, particularly social variation in the grammars and lexicons of languages and dialects. Faculty also study nonstandard language, diglossia, pidgins and creoles, and gender differences in speech.

Computational Linguistics
The department has recently built up a program in computational linguistics. Current areas of interest include grammar engineering, building computational tools for the documentation of underdescribed languages, and Natural Language Processing in general. Our areas of expertise have broadened as we hired additional computational linguists during the 2004-2005 school year for our new Professional Master's in Computational Linguistics. UW linguistics students also have opportunities to work with faculty in EE, CS and the Information School on research in machine translation, speech recognition, and biomedical informatics, among others.

Second Language Acquisition Theory
Faculty members research the cognitive mechanisms underlying the acquisition of second language. Questions taken on include whether second language acquisition parallels first in crucial ways, and the extent to which it is governed by principles of universal grammar.



Phonetics Laboratory
The Phonetics Laboratory at the University of Washington provides a state of the art teaching and research facility to faculty and students in the linguistics department as well as UW students and faculty in related fields. It specializes in three core areas of phonetics: recording and acoustic measurement of spoken language, instrumental measurement of the physiology of spoken language, and measurement of speech perception and spoken word recognition. In addition to its core areas it also has some basic tools for analyzing the production and perception of signed language, and for computational modeling of production and perception of spoken and signed language. The phonetics lab also houses the sociolinguistics laboratory with a specialized set of tools for recording and measurement of spoken language, transcription and analysis tools, and dedicated computers for field and laboratory sociolinguistic research.

To develop a laboratory community, lab members attend weekly meetings (phonetics, sociolinguistics, or both) designed to promote research and an exchange of ideas. This community increases contact among people working on different projects and provides a forum for keeping current with the field. It also increases the involvement of undergraduate and graduate students in faculty research and encourages students to conduct individual research. A lab community fosters collaboration within the department, across departments at the University of Washington, and across universities. It provides resources for facilitating classroom teaching and community service. Last but not least, it acts as a catalyst for grant applications and increases the chances of research funding. Faculty, post-doc and student lab members are encouraged to and facilitated in applying for grant funding.

Research Areas
Faculty and students use the lab to conduct a wide array of linguistic research. Current research areas include: phonetics, phonology, sociolinguistics, dialect studies, language preservation, computational phonology, second language learning, language change, sign language phonology, discourse and conversational analysis, and language development. Of particular interest is collaboration between the sociolinguists and phoneticians in the study of inter- and intra-speaker variation. The Phonetics lab also supports collaborative research with a variety of other research labs including:
The Child Speech Laboratory
The Cognitive Neuroscience of Language Lab
The Speech Research Lab at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences
The Signal, Speech and Language Interpretation Laboratory

Research Tools
Recent purchases have made the phonetics lab one of the best equipped in the country. Here is a list of the lab’s capabilities:
• Sound treated booth with digital and analog capabilities and several types of professional microphones
• Acoustic analysis of speech (on 3 platforms: OSX, Windows, Linux) Praat, multispeech, Xwaves
• Physiological analysis of speech (oral & nasal airflow, electroglottography)
• Transcription tools
• Rudimentary parametric synthesis (synthworks), basic resynthesis (Praat)
• Speech perception and word recognition research tools
• Access to LDC and other corpora
• Data processing and analysis (excel, spss, mathematica)
• Programming for Mac OS, Windows, Unix/Linux platforms
• Word processing and manuscript preparation
• Graphics tools
• Field work tools that permit many of the lab functions to be performed remotely (6 portable professional CD recorders, 2 professional DAT recorders, 3 laptop computers)

The phonetics lab is constructed around the idea that teaching and research go hand in hand. Lab members attend weekly lab meetings that are centered around training in research methodology and ethical research conduct. Outside of lab meetings, Professors Wright and Beckford-Wassink train students, faculty, and visitors in the use of lab tools for research and for classroom teaching. Lab resources have become a part of classroom teaching in some graduate and undergraduate classes. Equipment is used as a guest lecture tool in some classes, and as a significant daily component in other classes. To facilitate classroom use the field equipment is configured in a way that allows it to be used for in-class teaching. Many of the advanced undergraduate courses also include a laboratory research section where the students use the lab’s tools in their own work.
• Classes which have used the in-class teaching lab: 200, 403, 432, 446, 450, 451, 453, and seminars in phonetics and sociolinguistics
• Classes with a laboratory component: 403, 432, 446, 450, 453 and seminars in phonetics and sociolinguistics
• Classes taught in the lab: 499, 599, 453 and some seminars

Sociolinguistics Lab
The topics that are currently being explored by the Sociolinguistics Lab members are the following:

Our holdings include: portable and stationary data analysis equipment (digital and analog recorders, computers, as well as a variety of types of signal analysis and other software), a library of digital corpora for use by lab members.

Our activities include weekly meetings centered on reading and discussion of current articles in a variety of interest areas, providing support for those doing fieldwork and data analysis, support in developing abstracts, papers and presentations; discussion of best-practices in sociolinguistics; and, general discussion of issues at the intersection of language in society. We have recently begun to keep an online clearinghouse of data elicitation materials, to help people designing their own studies.

Computational linguistics lab
The Computational Linguistics Laboratory provides computing resources for the Professional Master's Program in Computational Linguistics, other courses in computational linguistics, as well as faculty and student research. Current projects in the Laboratory include the Grammar Matrix, ODIN, the UW TREC '06 Q&A Team, and quick adaptation of NLP tools. Through our weekly meetings, we explore various facets of computational linguistics, host speakers, and learn about each others' on-going projects.